LAST WORD COLUMN BY SPORTS EDITOR KIERAN McCARTHY
IT was late last year when then Carbery chairman John Corcoran approached Gene O’Driscoll to see if he would be interested in taking the reins of the division’s senior football team, again, for 2016.
These two men had soldiered together in the managerial dugout for several years, Gene coming into John’s management team in and around 2007, before being promoted to Carbery manager earlier this decade.
Gene had stepped back from the position last April after Carbery’s Cork SFC exit to UCC, annoyed by the treatment of divisions and college teams in the championship, who had no second chance, unlike club teams. He also felt he had served his time.
That all changed when the county board revamped the championship late last year, putting divisional teams on the same level as club sides.
Instead of two different sections – one for clubs, the other for divisions and colleges – they are now under the one umbrella, paired together from the off and treated like equals.
The late John Corcoran knew Gene’s stance would soften on the back of this news, and that’s why he approached his former apprentice.
Then, sadly, John passed away in January.
For some reason (s), the Carbery board took their time in appointing a senior football manager for the divisional team, and only last week did they make contact with Gene, asking him to come back.
He said yes, for three reasons.
1. The championship structure has changed and divisional teams are now treated the same as clubs.
2. John Corcoran poured his heart and soul into the Carbery senior football team – that work couldn’t be let go to waste.
3. Gene wants to give Carbery junior and intermediate players the chance to shine on the county senior stage.
Yes, Gene’s reappointment has been left late by the board, with only seven weeks to the Cork SFC opener against O’Donovan Rossa on April 30th in Dunmanway, but it’s now crucial that clubs in the division support this Carbery team.
Divisional sides, like Carbery, offer a great opportunity for players from local junior and intermediate clubs to perform on the county stage and to play senior football – a chance not afforded to everyone.
Clubs – football and hurling – need to embrace the Carbery setup and view it as an opportunity to promote their clubs and their best players on a higher platform.
Clubs want to look after number one (themselves), which is understandable to an extent, but there is a bigger picture here, and a good run by Carbery can have a positive knock-on effect with the local clubs.
Look across the county bounds at Caherciveen club St Mary’s, who won the All-Ireland IFC Club title last month, and who last year had several players on the South Kerry team that won the Kerry SFC crown. The two successes fed off one another, as the players were on a roll in a winning culture, for club and division.
In Kerry, divisional sides are more prominent than here in Cork, winning six SFC titles in a row in the late noughties, while also being in three of the last six finals.
There’s a general feeling that when divisional teams go well in Kerry, the county senior side benefits, as players from smaller clubs are getting exposure to a higher standard of football, are rising to the occasion and are being spotted by the county management team.
There is no reason why Carbery clubs can’t benefit from helping the divisional football team setup, by encouraging their players to train and play with Carbery, let them put themselves on the shop window, and let’s see what happens then.
Look at the last Carbery football team to win a senior county, back in 2004. Bandon, Kilbrittain, Muintir Bhaire, St Colum’s and Tadhg MacCarthaigh all had men on that team.
Even now, Tadhg MacCarthaigh, Bantry Blues and St Colum’s (depending on Alan O’Connor) are non-senior West Cork clubs that have players on the county senior panel.
Carbery is a GAA family, and at a time when there is more and more talk of the powers of divisions being diluted, clubs need to show how important their divisions are to them and their club’s future.
You never truly miss something until it’s gone.